CNS PHOTO BY PAUL HARING
Pope Francis arrives at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington on Sept. 23 for midday prayer with the Catholic bishops of the United States. Walking with him at right is Msgr. W. Ronald Jameson, the cathedral’s rector, and behind the pope at left is Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington. This year, the Cathedral of St. Matthew is marking its 175th anniversary.
CNS PHOTO BY PAUL HARING Pope Francis arrives at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington on Sept. 23 for midday prayer with the Catholic bishops of the United States. Walking with him at right is Msgr. W. Ronald Jameson, the cathedral’s rector, and behind the pope at left is Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington. This year, the Cathedral of St. Matthew is marking its 175th anniversary.

Addressing more than 300 of the nation’s Catholic bishops as a “pastor from the South,” and a calling himself a “brother among brothers,” Pope Francis encouraged the bishops in all areas of their ministry and reminded them to always joyfully proclaim the Risen Christ to their flocks.

“May the word of God grant meaning and fullness to every aspect of their lives; may the sacraments nourish them with that food which they cannot procure for themselves; may the closeness of the shepherd make them long once again for the Father’s embrace,” said Pope Francis in his homily during a midday prayer service Sept. 23 at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, D.C.

“Be vigilant that the flock may always encounter in the heart of their pastor that ‘taste of eternity’ which they seek in vain in the things of this world. May they always hear from you a word of appreciation for their efforts to confirm in liberty and justice the prosperity in which this land abounds,” the Holy Father said. “At the same time, may you never lack the serene courage to proclaim that we must work not for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures for eternal life’ ” (John 6:27).

Arriving before noon at St. Matthew’s Cathedral on his first full day in the Archdiocese of Washington after the morning’s White House welcoming ceremony and the papal parade around the Ellipse, the pontiff disembarked from his now-recognizable small black Fiat outside the main entrance of the cathedral, where he was warmly greeted by Washington Cardinal Wuerl and Msgr. W. Ronald Jameson, rector of the cathedral.

Pope Francis, who spoke in Italian, touched on several topics concerning the Church in the United States – the Church’s long history in America, the clergy abuse scandal, abortion, and immigration.

Before praying with the bishops, the pope paused for a few moments in silent prayer in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. During the prayer service, Pope Francis was seated in front of the cathedral’s main altar.  

“I know that you face many challenges, that the field in which you sow is unyielding and that there is always the temptation to give in to fear, to lick one’s wounds, to think back on bygone times and to devise harsh responses to fierce opposition,” he told the bishops.  “And yet we are promoters of the culture of encounter. We are living sacraments of the embrace between God’s riches and our poverty,” he said.

Pope Francis urged the bishops to confront the challenging issues of the times. “The future freedom and dignity of our societies depends on how we face these challenges,” said the pontiff.  “The innocent victim of abortion, children who die of hunger or from bombings, immigrants who drown in the search for a better tomorrow, the elderly or the sick who are considered a burden, the victims of terrorism, wars, violence and drug trafficking, the environment devastated by man’s predatory relationship with nature – at stake in all of this is the gift of God, of which we are noble stewards but not masters. It is wrong, then, to look the other way or to remain silent.”

Pope Francis said the main purpose of his U.S. visit is to promote the Gospel of the Family, which in the World Meeting of Families, he said, he will “emphatically proclaim with you and the entire Church.”

As shepherds of souls appointed by God, the Holy Father urged them to be pastors with “undivided hearts, selfless devotion” and joy.

Of the clergy-abuse scandal, Pope Francis did not address it by name, but told the bishops he was aware of the courage with which the Church in the U.S. faced these “difficult moments in the recent history ...without fear of self-criticism and at the cost of mortification and great sacrifice. Nor have you been afraid to divest whatever is unessential in order to regain the authority and trust which is demanded of ministers of Christ and rightly expected by the faithful. I realize how much the pain of recent years has weighed upon you and I have supported your generous commitment to bring healing to victims – in the knowledge that in healing we too are healed – and to work to ensure that such crimes will never be repeated.”

He also strongly encouraged the bishops to continue to welcome immigrants. The pope acknowledged the bishops face certain challenges as well as blessings that come with immigration in dioceses throughout the United States.

“No American institution does more for immigrants than your Christian communities. Now you are facing this stream of Latin immigration which affects many of your dioceses. Not only as the Bishop of Rome, but also as a pastor from the South, I feel the need to thank and encourage you. Perhaps it will not be easy for you to look into their soul; perhaps you will be challenged by their diversity,” he said.

“But know that they also possess resources meant to be shared. So do not be afraid to welcome them. Offer them the warmth of the love of Christ, and you will unlock the mystery of their heart. I am certain that, as so often in the past, these people will enrich America and its Church. May God bless you and Our Lady watch over you!” said Pope Francis at the conclusion of his remarks.

Both Cardinal Wuerl and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, archbishop of Louisville and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, expressed their gratitude and appreciation to Pope Francis for making a pastoral visit to the United States. They assured the Holy Father of their prayers and support, not only from them and their brother bishops, but from the entire U.S. Church as well.

Before departing the cathedral, Pope Francis asked Cardinal Wuerl to speak on his behalf. “The Holy Father wished he could greet every single bishop personally,” said the cardinal, at which point the pope smiled and jokingly pointed to his wristwatch.